Australia and New Zealand dispatched their foreign ministers to Fiji on Monday to examine first-hand whether the coup-plagued Pacific nation was making progress towards democracy.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and his New Zealand counterpart Murray McCully, two of the harshest critics of Fiji's military dictatorship, travelled to Suva as part of a Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) delegation.
Ahead of the two-day visit, Carr said Canberra had no immediate plans to relax sanctions on military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama's regime, which seized power in a 2006 coup and had pledged to hold elections in 2014.
"Reducing sanctions that apply, not to the people of Fiji, but to members of the interim government, would be several steps into the future," Carr told Australia's ABC radio before his departing for Fiji Monday.
"We need to see a robust democracy functioning in Fiji."
Fiji was suspended from the 16-nation PIF in 2009 after Bainimarama tore up the constitution and reneged on a promise to hold elections that year.
Australia and New Zealand have also imposed sanctions on Fiji, including cutting all military cooperation and travel bans on senior members of the regime.
Carr's visit is the first time an Australian foreign minister has travelled to Fiji since 2008.
He said he would hold talks with government officials, the opposition, academics, trade unions and non-government organisations to assess plans recently announced by Bainimarama to restore democracy.
Bainimarama last month outlined plans to create a new constitution by February next year ahead of elections in 2014.
In January, he repealed emergency measures introduced in 2009 which muzzled the media and banned public meetings, although he also strengthened public order decrees, meaning the police and military still have sweeping powers.
McCully said Fiji was at a pivotal juncture and the resumption of direct dialogue between the PIF and the regime was a significant development.
"I think the very fact that we are here is cause for optimism," he told reporters in Fiji.
The delegation is not scheduled to meet Bainimarama, who is on a visit to India.© ANP/AFP